Prairie View

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Native Intelligence and an Excess of Wine

Yesterday's paper had a front-page article "A Native Intelligence" on the benevolent resident curmudgeon from our church, Yale-educated farm machinery mechanic LeRoy Hershberger.

LeRoy is a regular at our Miller family gatherings, since he has lived for many years at the home of my aunt Elizabeth, first when her own sons were still at home, and then staying long after the sons left for other cities and countries. My cousin Eldon was one of those sons. His wife, Jane, who has just come to America to live (from her homeland in Egypt, and more recently, from Syria) tipped off the reporter that there was a story here worth telling. My cousin Arlyn is quoted in the article. Arlyn is also the brother-in-law of my co-teacher, Wes. So much for the Mennonite game.

LeRoy was in fine form on the day of the interview with the reporter, and they got a videographer to record online the story of how he got his start as a mechanic.

Since this past Sunday, I'm convinced he came by his colorful, slightly edgy, personality honestly. He is his mother's son. Elizabeth just moved here and I don't know her very well, but she had our whole Sunday school class in stitches this past week.

We got an uncommon amount of mileage out of one unlikely phrase from the lesson in ! Peter 4: "an excess of wine"--plucked from a list of things a Christian should avoid.

Our teacher, Suzie, who did not grow up in a Christian or a Mennonite home, confessed that there was a time in her life when this was a major issue. The thought of a foam-topped dewy glass of beer with a ham and cheese sandwich still sounds very appealing to her. But she stopped drinking alcohol when she became a Christian.

After a cursory mention of the phrase, Suzie was ready to move on since no one else in this group has the same kind of issue when Elizabeth roused herself out of her slightly detached demeanor and asked, "Is it OK to have just a little?"

Suzie said, "Well, we can talk about that if you want to. What do you want to say?"

"I just thought it almost sounds here like a little might be OK." This was from Elizabeth.

We talked about wine in cooking and wine for medicine with no particularly memorable quotes emerging. Eventually Suzie elaborated slightly on her "total abstinence" position and Elizabeth agreed heartily with Suzie's personal stance, citing her brother-in-law's long struggle with alcoholism and the grief for everyone involved. "I definitely want to stay on the far side of being a tee-totaler," Elizabeth said.

Then she finished, with every word pronounced deliberately, "I just think Peter could have a made it a little more plain. No. Don't do it. At all."

That droll, "real teeth in it" alternative rendition of Peter's words coming from Elizabeth's sober, pious-looking persona was what cracked me up.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Undercurrents on an Outdoor Graduation

On Saturday morning, April 26, my alma mater, Sterling College, had its 2008 graduation on the lawn in front of Cooper Hall. Joel attended. Some of his friends were graduating, and he had a chance to see his former professors.

Several things were unusual about this commencement. Usually it is held in the football stadium, but that place is currently under renovation and could not be used. Also, commencement is usually on a day toward the middle of May, on the same day as any number of other college graduations. I don't know if this year's underwhelming commencement address (Joel's report) is typical or not.

The change of date has some merits. I think the typical three-week January inter-term has been moved to the end of the school year instead. This allows students who need summer jobs more than they need inter-term credits to get a chance at jobs before the flood of graduates elsewhere is unleashed on the same finite set of openings. Presumably, the typical student revelings on southern beaches during the long winter break is minimized too with this arrangement, if the spring semester begins in January.

The architecture of Cooper Hall is outstanding. Built of native limestone, and over 100 years old, it is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Several years ago it was completely restored, with the mortar being re-tucked, insulation added, windows replaced, the interior remodeled, the foundation shored up, and the area re-landscaped. This backdrop for commencement has much more character than the unfeatured expanse of a football field. For me, the building holds lots of memories. It was headquarters for the education department in my student days. The classes in my major were routinely held in that building--most of them on the third floor, accessible only by multiple flights of stairs.

Grant works for Terry, a man who worked on the Sterling grounds crew when I was a student. Terry now has a contract with the college for installing and maintaining the landscape, with the exclusion of the main grassy areas. Therein lies a major sticking point with Grant--not between him and Terry, but between both of them and the chief financial officer (CFO) of the college. During past summers Grant has spent many hours with a string trimmer, sprucing up the areas the mower does not reach. This year, however, the CFO has put a stop to "paying $30.00 an hour for string trimming." The result is that no one does it. The fescue around Killbourn Hall is a foot tall and going to seed. It makes the well-maintained border beds next to these areas look tacky, and Grant is bitter about it. Rather than being able to look at his work with a sense of satisfaction, he feels slight revulsion at every turn because of how the "look" is compromised, no matter how carefully he tends to the part he's allowed to do.

A soaking rain had fallen just before graduation day, and folding chairs set up on the Cooper Hall lawn could not have been a very stable arrangement for the people using the chairs. "Did anyone's chair fall over?" Grant asked Joel hopefully when he returned from graduation.

"I don't think so. At least I didn't see it if it did," Joel answered.

"Shoot. I hoped someone would tip over and fall into Paul Bingle's* lap or something."

I told you Grant was bitter.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Caught in the Act

Our parakeet, Houdini, has been on the prowl again, of late. Several times today he let himself out without a sound. This was a new level of deviousness.

Unwilling to be outsmarted any longer, we put his cage on the floor and Joel got his camera and waited patiently. He was rewarded with this video:

Both before and after the video, Houdini went to the corner of his cage and turned a somersault. While he was out, he dashed around under and over furniture. He scaled the end of the sofa and then flew across the room from that vantage point. He's the only bird I know of who doesn't need wing feathers to fly (Well, hardly any.).

Notice all the hardware hanging from the doors to weigh them down. Hiromi added a ring of keys after we shot the video, so it's back to weight lifting for Houdini if he's to get strong enough to lift those cage doors now. Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quotes for the Day 4/24/2008

Ida: (After telling me what she needed, and then waiting while I dealt with interruptions) Do I need something more or am I just standing here?

Me: I'll give you those study guides and quizzes you were asking about.

Ida: Oh yeah. That's what I wanted.


Jared (to Kenneth, who was eying a spot on the table top near where he had eaten lunch): Kenneth, don't you dare wipe that up. Gotta leave something for the table wiper to do.

Student: It's David's job (Kenneth's brother).

Me (to Kenneth who then proceeded to dump out the chip crumbs from his bag onto the table top): Kenneth, I can't believe you would do that. It's so immature.

Ryan: I can. That's why I believe he'd do it--because he's so immature.

Steven: Kenneth, if you do that I'll report you to the drug lords. Don't you know they have body piercing weapons?

Me (holding up the fork I was eating with): This could be a body piercing weapon.

Kenneth: One of my brothers has a scar on the back of his hand from that.

Jared: Who did it? Was it David?

Kenneth: He was involved, but he was the victim.

Student: Was it Tim?

(Kenneth equivocates.)

Student: We can ask David. He'd be glad to tell us.

Kenneth: It was Tim.


In typing class, with the windows wide open during a rainy day, after the wind began to pick up:

Emily: I felt a raindrop. You may think that's crazy, but I really felt it.

Seth: Sometimes you're riding along in a car and you can feel the rain. . .

Emily: Seth, I think you need a new car.


Student (referring to something on the computer screen): Why would they jump with eagerness at the noise of rumors?


Jacob: I'm about ready to throw away my math pace. I think I've worked every problem in there about six times.

I guess I'll have to get Mr. Schrock to explain it all over again.

Kevin: What you do is work it and write something down and then go to the scoring station and see what the right answer is. Then you try to remember it and work it as many times as you have to, till you get that answer.

I don't think this is how our cleverly-designed, individualized, programmed-instruction curriculum is supposed to work.


This year's typing class is blazing along faster than any I've ever taught. I promised them a party if anyone gets to 100 adjusted words per minute before the end of the school year. We have two weeks and two days left. Two days ago Holli's score was 96 wpm.

Today, I sweetened the deal by promising them a party if all of them got at least 60 wpm. They are all within 5 wpm, including Heidi, who joined the class nine weeks after school started, as soon as they moved to Kansas.

The current class average is 75.5 wpm.


The saga of "Strange School Days" continues. Night school is several weeks in the past, and "outdoor school" is two days in the past, but day after tomorrow we have "Saturday school." This unfortunate necessity was forced upon us when Mr. Schrock did a careful count of the number of school days we had this year and found that we were one day under the minimum required by state law.

We always build several extra days into the calendar in case we need snow days. We used three days this year, the exact number we thought were "extra." Did we plan on teacher work days counting as school days? How do other schools count this?


Mr. Schrock ( to me): I need to ask you about something. . . . Uh, there are some girls in the restroom. . . .

(I'm trying to figure out where this conversation is going.) Just then Frieda and Sheila, who were late getting to their desks after the bell, walked up from the direction of the restroom.

Frieda: She spilled coffee on her dress and I was helping her clean it up.

Mr. Schrock (grinning): The activities were quite audible out here.

Embarrassed gasps from the girls.


David Yutzy (to Grant, who had gone to answer the door during supper. David was holding out a plastic bag with something in it.): Last year your Mom said she likes these, so I brought you some.

Grant: Oh. Mushrooms! Where did you get them?

David: Oh somewhere. (Looking beyond Grant to me) You might have to soak them in salt water, unless you don't mind a few bugs.

Me: Thank you. This looks wonderful.

It was a nice "mess" of morel mushrooms, the kind I used to look for in the woodlands of Ohio, and have never seen in Kansas. David, who moved here with his parental family about four years ago, must know something I don't know, and he's obviously not telling. But with that kind of generosity, I'm not going to fault him one bit. Rest assured, if I had found them myself, I would not have thought of sharing them with David. He's definitely my hero for the day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Year of Freedom

It's April, and our family has just celebrated a one-year anniversary most people hope never to have to celebrate. Yet it is an occasion for rejoicing. My brother, who was incarcerated for 15 years, has now been free for one year, and has successfully fulfilled the terms of the first year of his parole. He just moved into his own apartment in town. Our church community celebrated with him by providing a grocery shower at his new residence on Friday evening.

His apartment is very nice. The kitchen appliances were provided, but he has been shopping for furniture over the past weeks, and he has it nicely furnished from estate auctions, etc. Knowing his love for tidiness, I'm sure he will keep his residence in tiptop shape. He loves to cook and will treasure that compact kitchen that is his to use.

Witnessing at close range the struggle of an ex-convict to re-integrate into society has heightened my awareness of why the recidivism rate is so discouragingly high. My heart is warmed too by the generosity of the Christian people in our community who have reached out to this brother of mine who has so much to love about him, in spite of some grievous mistakes he's made in the past.

Marcus had been promised a spot in a half-way house upon his release. However, because he still had some unprosecuted charges on his record, he was sent straight to a county prison upon his release from the state system. Those charges were eventually dropped, but by the time he was released several days later, the spot at the halfway house had been given to someone else. With no other approved release plan in place, he faced having to go back to prison.

That is, he was headed back to prison until my father offered that he could stay in their home. That plan was approved, with some stringent limitations on his contact with minors (because he was a sex offender involving minors) and he went home with Dad to a house he had never seen, since my parents moved from this house to that one while he was in prison. He wore a monitoring device on his ankle for a number of weeks.

His living with my parents worked out well. He tackled jobs with gusto, things he saw that needed doing that no one else had ever taken time for. My mother marveled over and over at the things he remembered from his childhood, and he set about recreating many good memories--foods he enjoyed, things he did with the family, good times with friends, etc. He got acquainted for the first time with brothers and sisters-in-law, none of whom were on his visiting list while he was imprisoned. Our two oldest sons were the only nieces and nephews he knew. This group now numbers over 30. He went to church with Mom and Dad regularly and seemed comfortable there with people he had known for many years. The first Sunday he was there we had a special prayer of thanks and blessing for Marcus, with the people sitting near him placing their hands on him while we prayed together.

Without the provision of a family who could give him some of the things he needed to get established, I have no idea how he would have managed. With no money, he could not have rented a place to live, and with no vehicle he could not have gone looking for a place to live. With no job, he had no way of earning money, and with no vehicle he could not have gone to a workplace. Besides that, the terms of his parole required keeping appointments in town, as many as three times a week. Violating any of the terms of his parole would have sent him back to prison promptly.

Having a job was an important part of his re-entry plan, but the job had to be flexible enough to allow him to take a half-day off for parole office appointments. Witnessing this dilemma, I remembered what I had heard earlier about someone whose children were in foster care. The terms of getting custody of their children back required that they keep appointments to visit their children and that they had a stable job. But when they took time off from their job to visit their children in the middle of the workday--the time arranged by the child placement agency, the job was in jeopardy. This kind of catch 22 seems wretchedly unfair, and Marcus narrowly escaped being caught in it.

Marcus' driver's license had long since expired, and the process of getting it reinstated turned out to be very complicated. Because he is a native of El Salvador (our family's glimpse into "illegal immigrant" profiling), he was required to produce proof of citizenship before he could get a license. In the chaos of his life before prison, his citizenship papers were lost, so he had to request a duplicate copy. That process cost several hundred dollars and was projected to take at least six months to process. All that time, my parents provided transportation for him. He finally got his citizenship papers ahead of the projected time when he went through an appeal procedure that expedited the process, and his driver's license was granted. Then he could at least drive where he needed to go, although he had to borrow a vehicle to do so.

Thanks to the kindness of Sam D. and his son Arlyn, who was near Marcus' age and a childhood friend, he got a job in construction. Sam had hired Marcus years ago and trained him for the kind of work that company still does. After some time of working regularly, he was able to buy a car.

Marcus worked at learning to type while he was in solitary confinement because of having taken part in a "rebellion" involving a protest about prison food. He couldn't practice typing on an actual keyboard, but someone brought him a keyboard diagram, and he practiced on that. We could not visit him at all during this time.

Visiting Marcus in prison was always a difficult experience. The hardest part was leaving, and having to leave him behind. The visiting had to take place on folding chairs set in straight rows, in a roomful of people all sitting in straight rows. Even turning your chair slightly so that you could more nearly face the person you were visiting with was not allowed. When he was on restriction, we had to visit on opposite sides of a window, through a "telephone," with Marcus in a small room by himself. Sometimes we waited a long time to see him. That was when they had taken his shoes away as a disciplinary measure, and he requested shoes to go to the visiting room. They took a long time to arrive.

Our county has a maximum security state prison. Part of the time during Marcus' incarceration, he was here, but much of the time, he was elsewhere in the state, as much as four hours away. We learned through this time that moving prisoners frequently, without prior notice, is one of the ways the state "manages" the prison population. Proximity to family is not considered. From Marcus we learned that the local prison is known by people in the system as a place to be avoided if at all possible. Not that it made any difference, of course. In one of the other prisons, Marcus was able to work on a grounds maintenance crew, something he really enjoyed. In the local prison, he worked for a time in the kitchen, but most of the time, he had almost nothing to do.

Marcus is very artistic, and he has a lovely singing voice. He won awards in grade school music contests and sold paintings while he was in prison. He is expressive and funny and has a sparkling smile and good work habits. He is determined to stay out of trouble and live well.

One thing grieves me. He never sings in church, due, I suppose, to something inside him that is frozen or scarred. I long for that hard, wounded place to become soft and whole.

On the back of his head Marcus has a patch of bare skin from a wound where his birth father injured him with a machete. Marcus was a young child at the time, and he says his father was trying to kill him and he ducked when he saw the big knife threatening him. He had almost no further contact with this man and he was cared for for a time by his maternal grandmother. When his grandmother became ill, he went to a government orphanage where he was sexually abused by older boys in the same facility. Then he was placed in a Christian orphanage where my sister worked, and he became a member of our family when he was about eight years old. While he was in prison, in a letter to us, he expressed his horror at having become a perpetrator of the same kind of ill treatment he had endured as a helpless child. He was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

Marcus made several childhood Christian commitments. But he gave up, concluding that he is too bad to be a Christian. He is not a professing Christian now. While I sincerely rejoice at the good things that have already taken place for Marcus, I'm still praying for his salvation. His long-term freedom depends on it, I believe. Besides, I can hardly wait to hear him sing again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Foolproof Alarm Clock

Shane (yesterday): I bought myself a new alarm clock two days ago. So far, I've slept through it two mornings.


I suspect most people have a love/hate relationship with their alarm clocks. For the chronically sleep-deprived (which seems to be 100% of the high-school-age people I know) and a high percentage of the mothers-of-infants I know, I can't imagine that the sound of the alarm calls forth any exclamations of joy. I remember those days, and they were not good at the beginning.

Until about three weeks ago, I loved the alarm clock Hiromi bought for me more than any I've ever had. With one setting, instruction manual in hand, right after he brought it home, it faithfully summoned me to the day at 5:30 every weekday morning and 7:00 every weekend morning. This was a really smart alarm clock.

It has an over-sized digital display in blue numbers. My favorite feature is its soft chirping when the alarm first sounds, becoming more insistent if it's ignored. Until recently, my least favorite feature was the radio, which I haven't figured out how to disable when I press the "off" switch. The alarm "off" is apparently the same switch as the radio "on" switch. I've never actually heard anything intelligible on the radio, partly since I allow it on for only a few seconds, but mostly because all it ever produces is crackling static.

Ever since April 1, when Daylight Savings began, my least favorite feature has been its automatic reset at Daylight Savings time. The problem is that this alarm clock was programmed to reset at the end of April, which was the standard time-change date earlier. So I manually re-set the date to the end of April, but this clock is smart enough to know when I'm lying. That different date I selected was also a different day of the week, so the 7:00 Saturday-Sunday alarm rang on Sunday and Monday. Not good--either the 5:30 wakeup on Saturday or the belated 7:00 wakeup on Monday.

To summarize, this alarm clock has obstinately refused to be pressed into the mold I've selected for it. It rang at 4:30 several mornings before I began whipping it back into submission. Then I determinedly pushed buttons according to my best instincts (which aren't anything to brag about where electronics are concerned) and hoped for the best. Right now my alarm is completely turned off. Maybe after April 30 it will right itself magically and I can use it again. Or maybe I'll find the instruction manual and all mysteries will be solved.

Till then, for getting up on time, I'm relying on Hiromi's wakeful rustling noises, and a foolproof, but not very smart alarm clock, a full bladder.


Shane: Well, my alarm clock went off this morning, and it is the most evil pile of alarm clock. . .

Me: What's wrong with it?

Shane: Well it's a full day's work to turn it off. You have to pull out the switch and retch around on it to turn it off. I'm definitely taking it back to Target tonight.


Apparently those first two sleep-throughs were not because of Shane being impervious to the sound, but "operator error" in setting the alarm.

Everything considered, I guess I'd still rather have my smart alarm clock than his obnoxious one. With mine, I have hope for better days, somewhere beyond April 30, or, before then, on the off chance that my smarts can be ratcheted up enough to match my alarm clock's, or the instruction manual shows me new ways to work magic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I Spy

For the past week, I've been using the data-gathering services of Statcounter. I did this after the previous "hit counter" service provider apparently "folded" about three weeks after I subscribed. In the process, I'm learning about how these things work, as well as getting an interesting peek at the invisible audience out there. This provider offers much more information than the previous one did.

First, I need to correct a misconception I passed on earlier. I did not understand the term "unique visitor" correctly. At least on this hit counter, this term means roughly "someone who has not visited this page within the past 30 minutes to 24 hours," depending on the interval you've chosen. This hit counter also keeps track of "page loads, " which is a combination of unique visitors and returning visitors (people who have been there previously within a specified time frame). My highest number of page loads was 60, with Sunday being the lowest, at 24. Most of them were from about 40 to 50.

I get a kick out of the map showing a "pin" at the geographical location of the visitors. As expected, the map is crowded from here east, mostly in the NE sector of the US and spreading south nearer the coast. A lone marker in California and another in Montana have me curious. The foreign countries represented so far are Canada, El Salvador, Belgium, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Australia. (Thank you. Yes. I see your hand.)

Many of the city names on the ISP log are unfamiliar, or well-known, but not as a Mennonite population center, probably because the service provider at those access points are in a different city altogether from the user, perhaps even in a different state. Winter Park, FL, for example has domain names for people who are local to Partridge, KS. What's up with that?

This hit counter is free until the count hits 500. Then the service is automatically canceled unless you pay the $9.00/mo. requested. At that rate, I don't know if I can justify continuing the spying fun and games for long. My total number of hits stands now at 287.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wearying Wind

Wes (who moved back to Kansas after a 35-year absence): I find this wind very wearing. I wasn't prepared for this. It affects everything.

Me: I think it's worse this year than usual. I guess maybe it's just that we've had fewer lovely days in between.


Shane: This is just a breeze stirring.

Me: As compared to what?

Shane: As compared to Spearville where we were working today. (90 ? mi. SW of here).


Grant: I wish the wind would just blow. None of this foolin' around.

The gusts 've gotta be more than 40 mph.


Me to Wes (Upon returning from the shop where I had gone to call one of the students to the phone, all the way with my hands pressed against my skirt as far down as I could reach.) There just ain't no graceful way. . .


Today's winds were predicted to be at sustained speeds of around 30 mph with gusts to 40 mph.

Translated, this is what it means:

1. When you drive into the teeth of the south wind on a gravel (river sand actually) road, the sand whips up against the windshield, each grain making a tiny ping as it hits.

2. We ban the use of the south-facing kitchen door at school because of what all gets rearranged inside every time it opens. One student can't resist reaching past the sign saying "Please do not use this door today" to open the door from the inside, just a little, "to see how windy it is." I can't believe it and give him a quick reproof.

3. The lawn chairs on the south side of the front porch at home end up hard against the porch swing glider on the north side.

4. Any plant protectors over the tomatoes in the garden are probably along the perimeter, caught in the fence. Some of them have rolled over or have scraped across the tender plants that were uncovered when their protectors took off earlier.

5. When you drive west on US 50, the trucks coming toward you are all leaning alarmingly toward the westbound lane.

6. For once, you're grateful for that stiff-as-a-board hairspray Hiromi bought by mistake.

7. The horizontal surface on the bird feeder is wiped clean.

8. A broken branch caught up in the tree since last December's ice storm finally broke loose and crashed to the ground.

9. When you get out of the car, you hang onto the car door for dear life to keep it from slamming into the vehicle beside you.

10. Today is the average frost-free date and you decide an untimely frost is the least of your worries. At least this south wind is bringing warmer temperatures.

11. Driving east or west requires keeping a constant tension on the steering wheel.

The wind is supposed to abate around 1:00 AM. Until then, we're under a "Red Flag" fire danger warning, in spite of still having standing water in roadside ditches from the most recent rains.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Relief Sale Vignettes

Today I attended the annual Kansas Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale for the first time in a number of years. In some quarters, that “first time in a number of years” admission probably would be evidence enough for a guilty verdict if I were tried for heresy, such is the prominence of this event in the Mennonite mecca that is Kansas. At least 22,000 people were expected to attend.

I wanted to go, and ended up riding along with my parents and my sisters, Lois and Linda, to get there. I bought a six-pack of ice plant to put in the flower bed next to the road, and two African violets–a white and a pink, according to the masking tape label. I also bought a dozen peanut butter cookies–one of about 1200 dozen baked on-site and sold by members of the Beachy churches in the area.

I watched the quilt auction for a while. When I walked in, they were in the process of selling a quilt that brought $3,700.00. A later one sold for $5400. The total for the entire sale was over $400,000.00

Sadly, the vereneke was all gone by the time I got around to looking for some for my lunch. Joel and Shane had each asked me to bring home a carry out order, so I failed on several counts.

A lot of the people I knew that I saw at the relief sale have grown noticeably older since I last saw them. Some of them have grown fatter too. People who saw me there may at this moment be sharing the same information in their blogs.


My brother Lowell was helping in the second auction ring, taking bids, and doing some auctioneering. I like hearing him. It brings back memories of how he used to practice here in this house while we were all growing up. He’d “sell” any object his eyes fell on–silly things like boxes, spoons, pencils, coats, etc., inserting humor and wheedling, and taking bids from anyone within range-- willing or unwilling participants in this “sale.” We’d laugh and try not to laugh, by turns. No use letting on he was any good at this. It might go to his head.

But in the dairy barn, he had a compliant audience. He could sell cows as long as the milking lasted. That’s where he really hit his stride with auctioneering skills.

He’s made a little money with this skill, working for a short time with one of the auction companies in the area, till he left the country for about five years for mission work. If he shows up at an auction, he often gets invited to participate.

Lowell told us that when he was in Costa Rica in February his father-in-law took him to the livestock auction and arranged for him to do an American style auctioneering demonstration. People cooperated gamely and placed fake bids on whatever imaginary animal he was selling. Everyone laughed and had a good time. Lowell speaks Spanish but is pretty sure he’d have a long way to go before he could sing a Spanish auction song. My guess is he’d need another childhood and an adolescence and a dairy herd to practice on.


One of the items I was pleased to see sell was a “U” MM tractor, very much like the one I used to drive for my dad. It sounded just right when they started it up. One thing was different about this one though. It was gas powered instead of Liquid Propane (LP) powered. Therein lies the source of many more vivid childhood memories.

LP tractors, especially when filled to capacity with fuel, and run on a hot day, build up pressure inside the fuel tank faster than the engine can use it (at least that’s my amateur explanation). When this excess gas pressure is released through the relief valve installed for that purpose, it makes an ungodly, hideously loud noise. White vapor shoots toward the sky and billows menacingly. It happens without warning. That’s part of its power to terrify. You know when the conditions are right, but you hope and pray that this time it won’t happen. But it usually does. When you’re the nine-year old tractor driver, you hang on to the steering wheel for dear life, and hunker down in the seat till the danger passes. Or, depending on how often you’ve been through this before, you jerk back the hand clutch and run away from the tractor as far and fast as possible. It takes a long time for your heart rate to decelerate.


I’m a real sucker for tractors I knew when I was a kid. Even now I dream of owning a 1952 8N Ford someday. I was born in 1952, and that was the last year 8N’s were made. I’ve checked them out on Ebay and bought a book on old Ford tractors. I periodically check the ads in the newspaper, and I notice when there’s an old Ford at the consignment sale in the community. Once on a trip to Oklahoma to attend a teacher’s convention, we came by a place in Tulsa with a whole lot full of old Ford tractors. I think I made a fool of myself that time, with my exclamations of surprise and delight.

I still mourn for the deal that got away when someone in western Kansas advertised three Ford tractors for a total of $1500. Parted out, the rear end of each one would have brought $750, and they were all running when they’d been parked inside a shed some years ago. But, as is often the case, you can’t take advantage of a bargain unless you have some capital to invest, and Hiromi was sure that buying three Ford tractors was not at the top of our priority list for expenditures. Since I am neither independently or dependently wealthy, I never got beyond calling up the guy who advertised it.

My grandfather Miller bought a brand new 8N Ford in 1951, so it figured large in many of my good childhood memories–riding in the tall silage wagon behind the Ford with my parents and siblings and grandparents and aunts and uncles on a summer evening trip to Great Aunt Fannie’s house for homemade ice cream, riding home after Wednesday evening church services, on a low-sided trailer behind the Ford, sitting in a box fastened to the three-point hitch with my aunt Emma taking us to their house for a visit. My uncle Ollie still uses that tractor often. It’s been overhauled several times, but it has always lived again to serve another day.

All the parts for Ford tractors are still available. I’ve tried to talk Grant into restoring one for me. He has gifted hands when it comes to tinkering with engines, but he’s practical about these things and says the only way you can justify putting the required money and hours into restoration is if you end up using the restored machine yourself. I think having something his mother could use herself might be close enough, but I don’t think he’s convinced.

Maybe I’ll have to tackle this project myself. That way, when the men looking on see that I’ll make a hopeless mess of it if they don’t step in to rescue me, I’ll get the help I needed in the first place.

I really don’t like how manipulative this plan looks, on paper or in practice. I’ll have to decide if a 1952 8N Ford tractor would be worth the risk.

My hunch is that the answer is probably not. Sigh.


At the relief sale, my dad met a "gebrechlich" (frail-looking) man he did not recognize at first. It was Rube Schrock from Oregon. What I saw of him was the back of his wheel chair and a brown felt hat, tipped back far enough that he could see the face of anyone who stood in front of his wheelchair to visit with him. My dad remembers that when he was a child, his parents and the Schrocks once worked together on butchering day. My dad, who was about six years old, either wanting to impress, or just engage in friendly conversation, told Rube that he had had a birthday on October 18. Rube couldn’t quite manage this level of specificity, but he informed Dad that he had had a birthday too. He was several years younger than my father. Rube came all the way from Oregon for the relief sale. Beside this feeble-looking man, my father looked hale and hearty.


Mahlon Wagler is a retired deacon who served in our church for many years. I remember his ordination in about 1959. He is now confined to a wheel chair also, and is barely conversant, but he was at the relief sale. In the one glimpse I got of him, his nephew Eldon’s daughter, Mary, who is about 10, was bent toward him, with her face very close to his, and holding both of his hands in hers. She was smiling and talking to him, her face full of sweetness and delight.


I haven’t always been sure that big showy events like the relief sale are the best way to raise money for relief. Sometimes it feels that excesses abound on such occasions. People eat too much, buy too much stuff they don’t need, and pay too much for what they get. But the good part is that some who can’t give money can give their time and skills to create something that others are willing to pay for. In the end, poor people benefit, and the camaraderie and good will all around on sale day is certainly a good thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Too Much Drama

Shane and Justin H. are leaving tonight for Kentucky in Shane's car. Tomorrow Shane will transfer to a semi tractor and drive it back to Kansas for Lynn, who purchased it. Justin will drive Shane's car home. It's Shane's way of making a little money during the rest of the week when he'll be off work because it's too wet to do basements.

I gave Shane my obligatory admonition as he left. "Be sure to pull off and sleep if you get tired. Don't keep driving."

"Yes Mother."


I told Wes today, "My life has way more drama recently than I have any need of."

Now that I think of it, the only things I want to talk about don't sound so overly dramatic, so maybe it was my imagination that created the drama.

On my day off from school Monday when I was planting my garden in the misty, moisty weather, just ahead of more misty, moisty weather moving in, Dad, Lowell, and Joey were trying to load the Angus bull onto the trailer. They got him into the catch pen, or very close, several times, and then the herd would make a break for the far corner of the pasture, pert little black calves and fat Mamas and all, high-tailing it for distant parts. Dad and Lowell are capable of emphatic vocalizations at such times. But patience is the part of wisdom if you're easing them again toward the catch pen, so this scenario kept repeatings itself: patient, quiet, slow maneuvers, quick action to close the catch pen gate, gently prodding the unwanted cattle out of the catch pen toward a strategically-opened gate, snapping it shut just ahead of the bull, yelling at the bull when he escaped, flailing sticks and arms, etc.

I heard Joey off at the north edge of the farm howling at the neighbor's dogs and getting them to answer back. A nine-year-old should probably not have had to face down the bull anyway. Howling at dogs is safer.

"You're welcome to come help," Lowell called out to me. I ignored the invitation, neither fleet-footedness or bravery in abundant supply at the moment.

From his perch on the limestone rock pile, during a catch-your-breath break, Lowell asked if I have any broad-leaf plants out. "I just felt drift from that 2 4D they're spraying across the road in that wheat field."

"Is that what I heard--the Co-op sprayer? I am so not impressed. It's way too windy--from the east yet, carrying it right over this place."

"An east wind is just right for keeping if off Ben Weaver's wheat though. That's the good part." (Ben Weaver's been dead for several years now, but it's still "Ben Weaver's field.")

" I just put out a newly planted pot on the table on the porch."

"Well, go get it in right now."

"What about all those perennials that are coming back in the flower beds near the road? I think I'll go glare at the Co-op guy." So I did.

The spray monster was coming toward me when I strode out, hands on hips, and stared/glared at the driver.

In response, or for some other reason entirely, he turned his big, wide-wheeled, tall rig around and roared off across the field again, away from me. Good riddance.


Last night, the cattle were out. We first spied them on the road, but they had traipsed across the very wet front lawn to get there. A phone call to Lowell, Grant's timely arrival home just then, and Hiromi's help made short work of putting them back in.

Hiromi thought to mention later that he thinks they were in the garden too, but they "probably didn't do too much damage. I saw lots of holes, and I don't think you made them."

I don't think so either. Not too much damage? That would be untypical of any cows-in-the-garden scenarios I'm familiar with.


We had lots of hail during the night on Monday. I can't believe I slept through it. The steel roof outside our bedroom window usually roars during such times. The newspaper reported hail three inches deep in Partridge, three miles away. Most of it had melted by morning.

On Wednesday, I thought to check the daffodils at school that the students and I had planted last fall--at least 60 of them. They were beautiful at the end of last week. I think every flower was butchered by the hail. Petal pieces were strewn on the ground, and some of the stems were broken over. The remaining flowers were sliced and torn.

Oh well, we'll start looking forward to next year's daffodils.

Quote for the Day 4/10/2008

In typing class:

Seth: Why is everyone so quiet today?

No answer. Only silence.


Heidi (Playing the Far-Off Adventure Typing [I hope] Game): I made it! That's the first time I made it!

Seth: That's what you say every time you make it.

Heidi: No. This is the first time.

Emily: No. You've made it before. Remember. . . .? (I forget how this ended.)

Heidi: Oh yeah. I remember now. So this is the second time.

Seth: No. You've made it more often than that. You always say it's the first time.

Lesson: Getting first-time-thrill euphoria repeatedly is a benefit of forgetfulness.


Mr. Schrock (to Elaine and Emily): You'll have to convince Mrs. I. This isn't my department. I'm off to class. It doesn't seem wise to me though.

Oh. I didn't see you. (to me, behind him)

Elaine (to Emily): I think we'll need to get a Reese's Cup ready before we ask. Maybe we'll have to borrow some of Heidi's chocolate.

Emily (to Elaine): I think I'd better stay inside.

Emily (to me): Elaine wants to know if she can go outside to study.

Me: Are you on "E?"

Elaine: No. If I were, I wouldn't have to ask.

Me: Oh. Good point.

It doesn't seem wise to me. It's cold and cloudy and wet and windy.

I think Elaine is one of those people that thinks rainy days are wonderful, even when it's already rained to the point of runoff--in pancake-flat country. Seth, Emily, and Ryan apparently harbor a similar attitude. The three of them were circling the building on the sidewalk during first break when it was raining--Seth gallantly holding a single umbrella for all three of them.


At ten till twelve, after hearing a lot of conversation in the kitchen:

Me (Opening the kitchen door): Whoever is on "E" privilege or is assigned the lunch-heating job today is welcome to be here. The rest of you are not welcome to be here.

Four sheepish-looking students filed out to their desks in the learning center.

I made the same speech yesterday. I think tomorrow I'll take the merit/demerit sheet with me when I head for the kitchen.

Tuesday's lethargic student group, still recovering from the three-day weekend and the energy expenditure of the KU basketball game, is definitely gone. In some ways the lethargy was easier to deal with. But it wasn't much fun.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Christian Counseling

Today I heard expressed in simple terms the approach used by one Christian counselor. When she meets with someone in need, she prays for God to give her a Scripture for the situation. When God answers, she has the person who needs help read that Scripture. "What jumps out at you?" she asks.

One person who was counseled in this way said, "There's always something that jumps out."

She went on to say that some counseling methods seem to leave the needy person in shreds, but with the above approach, the feeling is always that of having been built up and ministered to.

Elements of this approach that seem right to me are these:

1. The counselor relies on the prompting of the Spirit.

2. The truths shared are directly from Scripture.

3. The needy person receives illumination directly from the Spirit of God through the reading of the Word.

4. It's simple enough that any Godly person can learn to provide safe and effective counsel.

I don't mean to cast aspersion on other ways of counseling, but sometimes it all seems way too complicated.

A simple, straightforward approach surely has its merits.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quote for the Day 4/8/08

Student: This is almost as bad as having your parents tell you "We don't want you to do this, but we'll let you decide."

Zachary: Or as bad as having to choose your own punishment. I hate that.

Student: So what would you choose? Just ask for ten swats and get it over with?

Zachary: Are you kidding? Not ten of my dad's swats.

Student: What kinds of things might you have to choose your own punishment for?

Zachary: Pretty bad things.

Student: By the way, did you tell your dad about the . . . .? (I didn't get all this, but something about a ditch.)

Zachary: Oh yeah. He knows that.

This whole dialog followed my announcement that I was handing back the quizzes from last week without having scored them as I had intended to do. They were to write on their papers the scores they thought they deserved, based on what they understood, and hand them back in. That weight of responsibility was what was getting to them.

I kept repeating, "You'll have to decide" every time when a student wanted to explain yet again why they were not sure what grade they should assign themselves.

It was a true and false quiz, and we had graded it in class. And then the questions and counter-proposals for answers began. Before it was all over, I wasn't even sure anymore whether my answers made sense. (I'm not usually plagued with this much self-doubt.) Rather than nit-pick every answer to the point of absolute certainty, I decided on a shortcut.

My logic went something like this. If they really understood what the text said, and misunderstood my questions, these answers don't give an accurate picture of what they know. Maybe the best way to find out what they know is just to ask them. So I did. They could count as correct every question on which they knew the truth as stated in the text.

I wrote down every score exactly as the student suggested without further investigation. It's wonderful to teach trustworthy students.

If they're thinking Our teacher is so gullible, I don't want to hear about it.

Back to Trustworthy. Now that's a warm fuzzy word I plan to hold on to.

Basketball Champions

If you don't live in Kansas, you may have missed the fact that the University of Kansas is now the reigning national college basketball champion. I'm afraid I might have missed the development of this bit of drama till I opened this morning's paper, except for sons and students who sometimes talk about such things in my hearing.

The championship game was apparently a nail-biter. Kansas was ahead by just a bit at halftime, and then soon fell nine points behind, due to a 14-point scoring streak by a Memphis player. Things did not look good for Kansas. The Kansas team's strategy turned to fouling the other team whenever they had a chance. Memphis already had a reputation for poor free throw hits, and their scoring slowed down. Kansas crept up from behind, sometimes only one free throw at a time, but they were still nine points behind with two minutes of playing time left. Then, with 2.1 seconds left on the clock, still three points behind, a Kansas player made a three-point shot to tie the score and force the game into an overtime.

During the 5-minute overtime, Kansas pulled ahead to a 75-68 win.

This is likely to be the only post on college basketball you will ever read here. I did not watch the game, but confess to having checked the score periodically on the internet.

I hope I didn't write anything that makes it too obvious that I am really far out of touch with the sports world of mania and passion--most of it misguided, in my humble opinion. But since someone had to win that championship, I think it's nice it was Kansas.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Ethics of Life Writing

Has anyone here ever been surprised at what fell out when they shook their family tree?

When the members of our Anabaptist History class researched our family history, we uncovered a few facts that must have created scandals during the lifetime of the people involved. One immigrant ancestor was divorced by his wife. The wife remarried and had other children. When that person's descendant in the class was preparing a fact sheet to be displayed on the wall at school, he asked if he should include information about the divorce. We talked about it briefly, and I ended up saying that I thought he probably should include the information. This was a fact-gathering project, and we had specifically written information on the spouses when it was available, in other cases. The student involved did not seem particularly conflicted about the matter.

In researching my own family history, I found reference to a document on public record where one of my ancestors announced that, since his wife had left him, he would no longer be liable for any financial transactions she was involved in. I told the class about what I found.

I read a book recently about a woman I knew. Later I heard the woman's brother say of the book, "I haven't gotten very far in the book, but already I've found things I wish he [the author] would not have written." I tried to think what the brother might have been referring to. Assuredly, the author wrote only truthful things. Was there family history he was embarrassed by? If so, it didn't stick long enough in my memory to know what he might have meant. Did it diminish my appreciation for the woman's brother? Certainly not. Did it reflect negatively on the woman who was the subject of the story? If so, I can't remember that either. The context of the story is so complete and sympathetic overall that I couldn't muster up any feelings of condemnation if I tried, even if imperfections came to light.

Someone asked me recently if I would write about unpleasant things in my own experience if they reflected negatively on someone I loved (I'm paraphrasing the exact question). I said I thought I would, if I felt that doing so was truthful and could be a help to someone else. Mentally at least, I was rehearsing how carefully I would want to do that, providing sympathetic context whenever possible, and providing just enough detail to be clear.

Later, it occurred to me that I would be less likely to write about the unpleasant things closest to me than I would be to grant others permission to write them, assuming I could feel that others would exercise the same carefulness I envisioned if I was doing it myself. While there would be an emotional cost either way, I think the relational cost would be far less with someone else doing the writing, particularly if everyone involved will go on relating to each other in some way.

I finally figured out what to call this conflictive area that has occupied a lot of my thinking the last while when I came upon a book titled The Ethics of Life Writing by Paul John Eakin, 2004. Part of the book is available online, and I read enough of it to learn that others have given considerable thought to this dilemma. I am not alone in mulling it over.

Believing that this is a dilemma only to humans and not to God, I have prayed for insight, and reflected on clues available in Scripture. I've talked to Hiromi and Joel, and to my uncle, who is an editor. While not everything is clear, the fog is lifting a bit, and certain truths are emerging. In no particular order, here is what I see now:

1. Truthfulness is important. That does not mean we will always say all that we know. It does mean that when we engage in conjecture, we will be clear about what we're doing.

2. The motivation for writing is important. Vindictiveness is an evil motivation. Desire to see God Himself honored or Godliness in others honored are good motivations. Willingness to reference sad situations or wrong actions in others can happen out of either good or bad motivations. Providing titillating detail or having a morbid preoccupation with particularly dark elements of a story would be wrong. Christian writers ought to pray for understanding of their own motivations.

3. Stories in Scripture are sometimes brutally frank in their portrayal of wrongdoing and evil intent. Sometimes no accompanying sympathetic commentary is present. Just the facts. The Bible tells us that the stories are given for our learning.

4. By its nature, writing about another's life is an intrusive undertaking. Getting information is a necessity, and the ones best able to provide it are also likely to be deeply invested in the result. This makes the outcome a potential minefield, and unwelcome bad-memory explosions are easy to trigger. Any individual source can, of course, be as selective as they choose about the information they provide. Writers expect and understand such selectivity. That's why they usually do not limit themselves to one information source, or one perspective on what is appropriate to write about.

5. A writer would be wise to make clear, up front, when soliciting information, that the purpose is indeed to seek information, not permission.

6. Christian principles must be considered when information is shared, not only professional or legal codes.

7. In a story about another's life, the person who lived the life and the people who choose how to respond to what they learn from that life are the principal players in the scenario. The writer is a conveyor of truth, not a creator of it.

8. A written piece, as is true for many other pieces of life, may present an opportunity for a person exposed to it to re-process experiences from the past. Whether the exercise turns into a positive or a negative for the reader is not primarily under the writer's control.

9. A written account is most effective when the story is allowed to speak for itself. Strong verbs and images are far more memorable than anyone's conclusions or the most skillfully selected adjectives. While this is more an issue of art and craft than ethics, a writer who ignores these realities risks not being being able to enter the "marketplace" at all. An unread story has no more impact than an unwritten story.

10. If a story needs to be told and is too "hot" to handle, using pseudonyms might be considered. If a person is writing autobiographically, he or she can simply write anonymously. If the story is about someone else, false names can be used instead of real names. As a writer, I would have no qualms about doing this if appropriate disclaimers were present. But I can see it presenting a dilemma to people whose story is being told. I doubt that most people would choose anonymity if the entire story was laudatory. But what if 1% of it were true but not laudatory? Or more than 1%? Or what if a negative element received a bare mention, but was particularly embarrassing? I know of no reliable formula for determining the tipping point where the choice becomes clear between anonymity and true identity. I do not see routine banishment of the 1% to be a wise choice.

If you're still reading, I thank you for your perseverance. Now you know how things look to me and you may have identified some opinions of your own.

What am I missing? Do you see things differently?

I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Quote for the Day--4/4/08--B

Jacob: Mrs. I, are you going to help us play softball this afternoon?

Me: No, I'm too old for that.

Jacob: I remember my grandma playing with me before she had her stroke and everything. And she was a lot older than you are.

Me: I might do that too if I was trying to build a relationship with a grandson.

Jacob: How do you think that makes me feel?

I should have thought of how that sounded.

But I went home anyway and took a nap during the softball game with the grade school.

Gotta make it clear that, sometimes at least, I know enough to act my age.

Night School--Part 4

Lest anyone get the idea that anarchy reigned and the students had their way in everything, I should tell you about the ideas we said no to.

"May we take off our shoes?"


"May we have an armed-intruder drill?"

"We considered it, but Mr. Schrock decided that doing that in the dark would be too chaotic."

"May we go to the kitchen and hang out?" This was after typing class was over, and they preferred the kitchen to the learning center as the next destination.


This is my list. I don't know what all Mr. Schrock might add.

I didn't learn about one funny misadventure till it was all over. We missed Ryan at dismissal time and decided to go on without him. He was at that very moment lying in the dark in the janitor's room, bound and gagged, and waiting to be "discovered" by girls in search of cleaning supplies for the Friday cleaning jobs that commenced at 12:30 AM.

The first snafu occurred when the door locked behind the students who did the tying up. So they had to ask Mr. Schrock for a key to open the door to the janitor's room. It happened twice. Then, the girls experienced an unexpected provision of cleaning supplies elsewhere--in the kitchen, bathrooms, etc., and none of the girls had any need to go to the church janitor's room. Somehow someone caught wind of the plan and then, for sure, none of the girls were going anywhere near the janitor's room. Poor Ryan. Released with no further drama.

I left school at 1:31 AM. When I pulled into the driveway at home, all the parking spaces next to the house were taken by the four vehicles owned by other family members. I had to park my minivan in the nether regions. That never happens--that I get home after the whole family is asleep in bed.

This once, I'm asking for a pass on coming home at an unreasonable hour. When duty calls, I must answer. But what a fun duty it was.

Night School--Part 3

"Can we please turn off the lights?" the students begged during typing class. "At least for a little while?"

"OK" I agreed. And so it was that when Mr. Schrock popped in to tell me something, the only light in the room came from the blue screen of each computer monitor. But each student's face was well illuminated, and I rather enjoyed the guilt-free time of watching them work. I couldn't see to do anything at my desk. The novel atmosphere did not hinder the typing effort at all. Nobody set a new speed record though. Emily had done so earlier in the day--91 adjusted words per minute.

Larry, our school administrator and one of the church trustees, came during school to do some repair jobs. He was fixing the window blind adjustment knob on one of the windows in the typing room during the break. I suspect he got an earful from this "wired" bunch of students.

During German class, after I was occupying my appointed place in the learning center, Holli came up with a big grin. I sensed a special request in the making. "You know how nice it is to be outside at night sometimes?" she began.

"Yes. I know that. I've often enjoyed the outdoors at night," I grinned back.

"May I go outside? I have all my goals done, and nothing really to do. Would this help you decide?" She plunked the second Reese's cup of the evening on my desk.

"I think that would be alright," I said. "Oh, are you on "E" privilege?"

"No, 'cause I flunked my Algebra test." (This kind of thing happens for her only in algebra.)

"OK, ten minutes only then."

"And, can I take someone with me? We're social creatures, you know." How well I know.

"OK." She plunked down the third Reese's cup.

"We must have more people on "E" than I thought," Wes told me after German class. "There were people peeping in the windows during class."

Confession time. I told him the "Holli" story. "I think I'm being shamelessly bribed," I told Wes. "And I'm an all-too-willing accomplice."

"Yeah. Like you said in staff meeting. Sometimes it pays off to let them think they're getting one over on us."

Night School--Part 2

The students came up with novel activities during recess (aka "Break"). At the first break, it was still daylight, and I spied a group of girls on the concrete slab in front of the shop. They were giving and taking rides in the wheeled trash carts. Only the riders' heads were visible, except when the carts dumped over.

At the next break, the girls prevailed on me to help them play "Ghosts in the Graveyard." I allowed myself to be swept along in the euphoria of the moment and played my very first game ever of "Ghosts in the Graveyard." Frieda dramatically told us the sad and scary "Here lies. . . " stories as we threaded our way around the storage buildings next to the shop. The two Sheilas (I think) were "it" and lurked in the dark to scare us. Behind the barns, after the scare that signaled pell mell escape maneuvers, I found myself picking my way awkwardly through branches on the ground. Oh yeah. Here's where we piled the branches when we created our "armed intruder" escape tunnel through the evergreens last fall.

Darkness presented some novel break time options.

"Peek-Around-the-Corner" was the game of choice for some of the students during the third break. (This, in spite of Ryan's dismissive pronouncement: "I so want to play Peek-Around-the-Corner.) When I stepped outside for fresh air, Matthew (tall senior) and David (big and tall sophomore) were on the sidewalk west of the building. David was standing stock still and Matthew was moving cautiously away from him, looking backward at David as he did so.

Circling the building three times without the "it" person seeing you move was the object of the game, as I understood it. Of course, while Matthew was keeping an eagle eye on David, others were no doubt busily making progress on their trips around the building. The necessity of peeking around the corner to ascertain the position of the "it" person is where the name of the game originates. This childhood game was fun again for everyone playing. I'm sorry I didn't learn to play this when I was young. I guess I had too many well-supervised recesses focused on competitive sports in public grade school.

The third break was as busy as the first. Maybe the two pots of coffee consumed, the espresso machine someone brought from home, and the 2-liter Mountain Dew I spied had something to do with it.

Night School--Part 1

After a 1:45 AM bedtime, I should not have been wide awake at 6:30 this morning--and that, after sleeping fitfully "all night." I seriously doubt that such a fate befell anyone else present at the night school held for fun at our school from 6:00 PM Friday to 1:00 AM Saturday, except maybe Mr. Schrock, who is also at least 25 years older than the students. Maybe it was the root beer floats, and tortilla pinwheels with salsa, and cookies, and apples with peanut butter dip, and the seasoned pretzels and oyster crackers, and Wheat Thins and cheese curl thingys, and summer sausage and cheese with Ritz crackers, and coffee cake, and thin corn tortilla "tubes" with chicken filling--at 10:30 PM (?). But it was definitely a memorable and happy "lunch hour."

I told the people next to me around the lunch table that Norma is teaching next year in my place. This news was greeted with great pleasure. "Awesome!" is the response I remember. Some of them have had her as a teacher before, in eighth grade.

When I arrived at school last night (I have late-arrival privileges since I'm a 90%-of-full-time teacher.), "Monday morning chapel" was already underway--outdoors, with everyone in chairs set up in a big circle. At the short first break immediately afterwards, the decibel level in the learning center was amazing, like a chicken house full of hens on steroids.

In Anabaptist History class we watched the second half of the film on Russian Mennonites near the beginning of the school day. The first part was the activity for the morning class. We didn't have time to discuss it much, but Zachary sat down immediately afterwards to write his response to the story, as I requested happen before we meet again next Tuesday, and Tim was so busy talking to me about it in my classroom that he forgot all about going to German class till it was well underway, and I forgot that I was supposed to be monitoring the learning center during that time. We should have picked up on the clue when Tim's cell phone alerted him to a call during our conversation. "Can I answer it?" he asked. "It's Ryan."

"No. You're not supposed to use cell phones during school."

So Tim quickly said "Bye" into the phone and put it back in his pocket. An emissary from the German class came looking for him, at which point I hurried to the learning center. "You should have seen the response when you got out here," someone informed me. I should have focused my eyes first on that section of sophomore boys' offices. I'll remember next time.

Quote for the Day 4/4/08

In response to a growing"party atmosphere" problem among about three female members of the Anabaptist History class who usually sat at the same three-person table, I assigned numbers to each of the four tables and let the four girls draw numbers from one to four out of a small bowl. Then, from the other bowl, the boys drew numbers also from one to four. This way each table had one girl and one or two boys.

Me (to class) : I have a seating arrangement for you today. You might consider it coercive mingling. Or you might think of it as simply a classroom management strategy. You should not think of it as a relationship-building opportunity.

I wonder if the hearty burst of laughter that greeted the last statement indicates that what was already in their minds was This is a relationship building opportunity!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Quote for the Day 4/3/08

Me: For Anabaptist History class tomorrow, we're going to watch the movie "And When They Shall Ask" about the Russian Mennonites during the Revolution. It's too long for one class period, so we'll do the first part during the regular class time and the second part during our night school.

Jared (In mock horror) : Please. Can we just call it a film?

He's the person who noted with amusement his grandfather's expression of concern about the new "CD tapes" technology. With him it's obviously all about the terms.


We're planning to have a regular Friday school schedule during the day tomorrow. Then at 6:00 p. m. we're meeting again for another "day" of school, ending at 12:30 a. m. The big payoff is next Monday when everyone gets a day without school.

Dorcas (Shane's fiance'e): I think I'm too old for that.

I know I'm too old to take it in stride. I hope I'm not too old to survive it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Ethics of Pranking

Today the prelude to one of our regular classes involved a brief discussion on the ethics of pranks. We agreed (with K________ being a possible exception) that the following guidelines are appropriate:

1. They should not damage property.

2. They should not cause injury or pain. (K_____ thought it's OK if something burns for a little while. Someone else thought K_________ would be a likely volunteer for a test run on the merits of that position.)

3. They should not interfere with necessary work, or create extra work.

4. They should not waste another's time unduly.

All correlations to today's date being "purely coincidental," we had some strange things happening at school today. Fortunately, they were, for the most part, in keeping with the above ethical standards. A few of them skated right along the edge of violations, however.

My first clue that something was afoot was the aluminum-foil-encased contents of Tim S.'s desk. Facial tissue box, water glass, Bible, textbooks, papers, etc.--all in shiny silver. He patiently dug each thing out of its wrapper as he needed it. In between times, he impatiently badgered the other guys for information on the perpetrator of the prank. I was thinking All that wasted foil! Ai yai yai!

Later, when I went to the restroom, I noticed that one of the stalls was occupied. I paid no mind and went to the other one. Later Elaine breathlessly asked me if I saw what was in the restroom. "No," I answered.

"I looked down and saw this pair of shoes I didn't recognize in the other stall. I got out of there fast," she continued.

Later, I went to inspect. It was men's shoes, situated in front of the toilet, facing forward, and partly covered by pant legs. Peering through the crack at the edge of the door, I saw a yard stick and another skinny board each thrust through a pant leg into a shoe on the floor. The upper part of the pants was draped over the toilet seat. On the floor was a folded-over, wadded-up piece of toilet paper, stuck together with peanut butter. Ugh.

Inside the boys' restroom, according to Mr. Schrock's report, a piece of tape on the bottom of the sink faucet opening directed the stream of water straight out toward unsuspecting people doing the right thing by washing their hands.

When I opened my computer and clicked on the word processing program icon, nothing. I rebooted it with no change in the results. "Would you check my computer when you have time?" I asked Mr. Schrock. He needed to be off to teach a class, but he paused long enough to check it out a bit.

"It's a prank," he told me quietly. "There's a picture on your screen that looks exactly like your desktop. If you need your computer, I suggest you question S____."

I worked on other things for a while in the learning center and then walked over to S_____'s desk. "Would you go to my computer and take the picture off the screen so that the icons work when I click on them? Thank you." S____ gave me a knowing and slightly sheepish grin and set off to do as I asked.

Everyone in typing class had the same initial experience with a picture on the desktop. The next problem was with the computer "mice" not sending any signals that registered on the screen. (Is that the proper term for more than one computer mouse?) Someone had taken out the navigating ball on the bottom of each one. Tim S. produced them from his pocket, and everyone popped them in, and all was well.

I heard more than the usual conversation among the boys during last break, but continued working diligently to get ready for the next class. After the bell rang, I beat everyone to the classroom. (I missed this clue to something abnormal.) The door gave a bit when I tried to open it, but would not open all the way. Oh great. Someone's in there holding the door. I'll just go in the back door. Same thing. I bet someone tied the two doorknobs together. But that doesn't make sense. Everyone's out here, not in there. By then, the class had clustered around the doors to the classroom.

Abruptly, one of the classroom doors opened from the inside, Jared having done the honors, and a rope trailing from the knob. Inside the room, a screen was missing from one of the windows, and the window stood wide open. Jared had hurried outside when he saw that the prank was discovered, and reversed what the boys had helped each other do earlier, entering through the window and untying the ropes to the doors. The air in the room was very fresh--not always the case, I assure you.

By chance, Mr. Schrock returned to school last night around 7:30 to pick up his own car after having gone to town directly after school with his wife Jean. He saw some cars there, which he did not recognize. (He's apparently as unobservant of vehicles as I am.) The lights were on inside, and he assumed there was a meeting of some kind going on.

After he and Jean got home, Jean mentioned having seen S_____ through the window, sitting at my computer. (This morning the blinds were closed--too late.) On a hunch, Mr. Schrock called the school. One of the students answered and Mr. Schrock asked if there was something going on there. "Yeah. We're just getting ready for the day tomorrow," he said.

Mr. Schrock was not born yesterday, and he had a pretty good idea that getting ready for the day did not involve textbooks or paces in this case. But he relaxed nonetheless, trusting the students' good judgment to regard ethical boundaries in their clandestine activities. For the most part, his confidence turned out to have been well-placed.

Fun and funny, slightly inconvenient and wasteful of a bit of time, but not painful or destructive (except to the aluminum foil supply)--it was April First, and another good day at Pilgrim.